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Spending Review 2020: Positive news for EV charging and roads

The Government’s long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) has been greeted from within the fleet and electric vehicle sectors for bringing positive news alongside a more “sobering” Spending Review.

The National Infrastructure Strategy sees key electric vehicle infrastructure grant schemes extended and expanded, and new funding allocated for rapid charging hubs and local authorities

While the Spending Review itself delivered a bleak outlook on the state of the economy, unemployment and controversial public sector pay cuts, the National Infrastructure Strategy sets out plans for a “a radical improvement in the quality of the UK’s infrastructure to help level up the country, strengthen the Union, and put the UK on the path to net zero emissions by 2050”.

The strategy is focused on an “ambitious package” of plans, including “vastly improved broadband, road and rail networks connecting up the country, investments to boost cities, towns and communities, and getting the basics right everywhere with better roads, buses and cycling infrastructure”.

It also underscores the Prime Minister’s recently delivered 10-point plan for climate change, which includes the commitment to ending the sale of petrol and diesel new cars and vans by 2030. This will be enabled by investing £1.3bn in charging infrastructure to accelerate the mass adoption of electric vehicles ahead of this date. The Government says it will kickstart the delivery of a core rapid charging network across motorway and key A road service stations. By 2023 it expects to see a high-powered charging hub at every motorway service area, installed by the private sector.

To ensure the private sector can continue to expand the charging network at pace in the 2020s, the Government has confirmed it will invest £950m in future proofing grid capacity along motorways and key A roads to prepare for 100% uptake of zero-emission cars and vans from 2035.

The Government will also extend support for charge point installation at homes, workplaces and on-street locations, but reform these schemes so that they target difficult parts of the market such as leaseholders and SMEs. It also commits £90m to fund local EV charging infrastructure to support the roll out of larger, on-street-charging schemes and rapid hubs in England.

Alongside this, the Government will be consulting on regulations to improve the consumer experience at public charge points later in 2020.

The Strategy also refers to record levels of investment for the railways, strategic roads, broadband networks and flood defences. This includes restoring “many of the rail services lost in the Beeching cuts”, pushing ahead with a £27bn roads programme and providing £5bn of extra funding to improve buses and cycling across the country, using London as a model. It also includes a £4bn Levelling Up Fund which will allow local councils to bid for extra funding for projects.

The announcements on key EV charging infrastructure priorities have been widely welcomed by stakeholders in the fleet and electric vehicle sector.

BVRLA chief executive Gerry Keaney said: “Amidst some very sobering news on UK national debt, unemployment and economic growth, it is reassuring to see that the Government is still willing to invest billions of pounds in supporting the transition to zero-emission road transport.

“We are now working to a far more aggressive ICE vehicle phase-out target, so it was also great to see the Government focusing on some of the key challenges outlined in the BVRLA’s recent Road to Zero Report Card – particularly the requirement to invest in grid infrastructure ahead of demand and the need to help SMEs and leaseholders.”

The National Infrastructure Strategy also emphasised the need for motoring tax revenues to ‘keep pace’ with the uptake of electric vehicles – road pricing is already said to be on the agenda – and Keaney urged the Government to work with the fleet sector to ensure that this is done in a timely, effective and proportionate way.

“The Government’s future motoring tax strategy has to strike a very fine balance. Yes, it needs to maintain vital revenues and encourage people into newer and cleaner vehicles. The Government must also avoid placing a crushing tax burden on businesses and individuals that are unable to upgrade their cars, vans or trucks and are already struggling to cope with the economic implications of the Covid-19 pandemic and EU-exit.”

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) also welcomed the package of measures on EV charging, which it says it’s been calling for over the past few months and show that the “Government is closely listening to the needs of the EV charging sector”.

It’s also calling for a wider ‘Net Zero Test’ to be introduced to ensure future HM Treasury spending aligns with the UK’s legally binding net zero targets

Dr Nina Skorupska, chief executive at the REA, said: “With the Government’s commitment to kick-start the economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to ensure that stimulus spending and decarbonisation are advanced hand-in-hand.”

Ernst & Young said the investment in EVs was a critical step but more may be needed. David Borland, EY’s UK automotive leader, said: “The UK can be a long-term competitive player in automotive manufacturing if there is significant investment in battery development, production and the associated supply chain. The investment confirmed in the Spending Review is a welcome step in the right direction for both the UK automotive sector and consumers.

“The consumer grants will reduce the impact of the higher purchase price of electric vehicles, and will be an important factor in the shift to zero-emission vehicles.

“Investment in the energy sector and charging infrastructure is also a critical step forward, alleviating the concerns of many potential EV buyers around ready access to charging at home, charge time and range anxiety. But given recent estimates of the number of charging points needed across the UK to support mainstream EV adoption by consumers, further investment may still be needed.”

Meanwhile, the SMMT welcomed the news in the Spending Review of an additional £3.6bn to safeguard and create jobs and said ‘building back better’ means planning for long-term job security beyond the immediate Covid crisis.

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, commented: “With welcome initial funding for a significant rollout of electric buses, vehicle charging points and consumer incentives, the chancellor has rightly recognised that the Road to Zero is a long-term aspiration. Likewise, delivering a green industrial revolution for all will need a long-term investment plan, so we look forward to working with government on its Industrial Strategy refresh early next year. UK Automotive can help every region across Britain to level up – but this hinges on keeping auto retail open in any future lockdown scenario, securing a tariff-free trade deal with the EU, and delivering on the scale of investment needed to achieve net-zero ambitions. Together, these will result in far greater long-term prosperity and security than today’s announcements alone.”

And the news on roads funding was welcomed by the Asphalt Industry Alliance.

Rick Green, chair of the AIA, said: “Our local roads played a vital role in keeping the country functioning this year, supporting the emergency services and facilitating the distribution of food and goods, and today’s funding announcements reflect that the Government recognises the need to invest in the local road network as we build back better.”

But he added: “While these spending commitments are welcome in these challenging times, we are aware that the sums outlined will not be enough to plug the existing multi-billion pound backlog in road maintenance funding and so our ageing network will continue to decline.

“What’s needed going forward is an additional investment of £1.5bn a year for 10 years, to improve the experience of all road users, support recovery and deliver a much-needed boost to the economy.”

However, Friends of the Earth was far from positive on the announcements in the National Infrastructure Strategy. Head of policy Mike Childs said: “With billions of pounds earmarked for a climate-wrecking road-building programme and inadequate funding for home insulation, eco-heating, buses and cycling this strategy falls woefully short of what’s needed to meet the UK’s legally binding targets for building a green future.

“National infrastructure projects should be the cornerstone of the fossil-free economy we need to head off the climate emergency. Ministers must ensure every major development is in line with meeting its net zero target.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. Natalie edits all the Fleet World websites and newsletters, and loves to hear about any latest industry news.